English Village Tries to Milk a Connection to Its Cheesy Past





STILTON, England -- This small hamlet shares its name with a famous curd. But under European Union law, it's illegal to make Stilton cheese in Stilton.

The bar on producing Stilton cheese here is a curious consequence of EU efforts to protect revered local foods by limiting the geographical area where they can be made.

The EU's protected list of more than 800 foods and drinks includes famous names like Champagne and Parma as well as lesser-known delicacies such as Moutarde de Bourgogne, Munchener Bier and a Spanish chili pepper called Asado del Bierzo. It even covers Foin de Crau, a hay for animals from the fields of Bouches-du-Rhône in southern France.

But to the chagrin of locals, no cheese made here can be branded as Stilton. That's because a group of outsiders, called the Stilton Cheesemakers Association, raised a formal stink.

The association, whose members have been making the cheese for more than a hundred years, in 1996 sought to protect the "Stilton" name by applying for a Product Designation of Origin from the EU. In its application, the group wrote that "the cheese became known as Stilton because it was at the Bell Inn in this village that the cheese was first sold to the public." The 17th-century inn, which still stands in the main street, is the village's oldest.

The cheese itself has always been made outside Stilton, the application said, "in the three counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire." The EU accepted the arguments and granted six creameries in those three counties a "PDO" to make Stilton cheese.

The origins of the cheese didn't much faze the residents of Stilton. "We never thought it was made in Stilton," says 74-year-old retiree David Williams.

Still, the cheesy association fit Stilton's historic narrative. Stilton (population 2,500) was known in centuries past as a busy stop for coaches traveling to and from London, 70 miles to the south. Its thriving inns sold the pungent blue-veined cheese, which took the village name even though there was no evidence of anybody here making it...



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